Inside the Black Friday Marketing Machine

The strategy behind Black Friday shopping frenzies could be used elsewhere.

Nov. 20, 2009 — -- Every year it seems we've paid more and more attention to Black Friday, the big retail sales day that occurs the day after Thanksgiving. By now, the image of mobs of determined consumers flooding retail stores has become as much a holiday tradition as turkey and tinsel.

In reality, neither Black Friday nor Cyber Monday, the more recently created kick-off to online holiday shopping, is the biggest shopping day. But the period beginning around Thanksgiving does mark the start of an increase in retail sales that peaks around the Sunday before Christmas.

That means marketers are going to vie for your attention long after the Black Friday frenzy. In fact, in the advertising industry, media professionals have long called the eight weeks starting the week before Thanksgiving and ending the week of Christmas the "hard eight" because of the volume of advertising that occurs during this period.

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This year, the Web has helped to put even more emphasis on buying by "publishing" the circulars and sales information earlier than the traditional newspaper inserts, with sites such as and posting up-to-the-minute news about retailers and the products that will be on sale Black Friday.

Some retailers have feigned surprise and anger over the earlier-than-ever consumerism of the Christmas season. But by directing online-shopping-savvy customers to the stores (both online and brick-and-mortar), the sites will help boost some much needed sales for the retailers with the best deals.

With this in mind, the success of Black Friday and Cyber Monday got me thinking about other floundering sectors of the economy we might help with a little marketing focus.

In the mid-'90s, I was very involved in the confection industry: Mars, the massive candy marketer, was my client. Manufacturers and retailers joined forces to organize and grow their seasonal businesses, focusing on Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas. Strategies were developed to create compelling products and packages to help consumers celebrate the holidays.

Advertising and merchandising dollars were spent directing consumers to watch out for, buy, consume and gift the seasonal offerings. The result was a significant growth of the seasonal business as a percentage of annual sales for the top confection companies. Today, the strategies continue in every retail channel. In confection, there is a seasonal display for one of the four major seasonal selling seasons 37 weeks out of the year.

I wonder if we can use the principles involved in Black Friday and merchandising seasonal merchandise to help spur our economy in this difficult retail climate. Both are short-term efforts at using advertising to grab our attention and hold us for the time it takes to give us information, which we then choose to accept or reject. Ideally, marketers could convert that short-term behavioral change into more long-term behavior.

More Shopping-Themed Days

There are a number of times during the year we reserve for certain almost universal activities. Holidays are obvious but, in addition, activities such as spring cleaning or home improvement can be adopted and elevated by retailers and brands. I'd like to submit a few ideas for days to help spur our economy back to health. The benefiting industries could partner with retailers to create the excitement leading up to these selling events:

What: Construction Equinox

When: I propose two days. March 20 and Sept. 4, coinciding with the actual Equinox.

Why: The two days signal the beginning of the two biggest purchasing periods for construction and home improvement products and services.

What: Print Sunday

When: The last Sunday in May.

Why: Anticipating the end of the school year and the coming warm weather, consumers needing to source summer travel and activities fuel the biggest day for newspaper and magazine purchases of the year.

What: Dollar Friday

When: The Friday before the week containing the Fourth of July.

Why: In anticipation of celebrating our nation's birthday, the day is one of the largest sales days for grocery store chains, outdoor furniture and grill purchases.

You get the idea. The formula is simple: Take a single industry or complementing industries, add consumer value, market heavily and tap into our true national pastime: shopping.

The work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Larry Woodard is president and CEO of Vigilante, a New York-based advertising agency that develops consumer-centric advertising campaigns. He is also chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies New York Council and the recipient of many prestigious industry awards, including two O'Toole Awards for Agency of the Year, the London International Award, Gold Effie, Telly, Mobius, Addy's and the Cannes Gold Lion. A blogger and a frequent public speaker, Woodard enjoys discussing the intersection of media, politics, entertainment and technology.